Workplace wellness programs — efforts to get workers to lose weight, eat better, stress less and sleep more — are an $8 billion industry in the U.S.
Most large employers offer some type of wellness program, with growth fueled by incentives in the federal Affordable Care Act.
But no one has been sure they work. Various studies over the years have provided conflicting results, with some showing savings and health improvements while others say the efforts fall short.
“Many studies, however, faced a number of limitations, such as failing to have a comparison group, or figuring out whether people who sign up for such wellness programs are somehow healthier or more motivated than those who do not.”
Researchers from the University of Chicago and Harvard may have overcome some of these obstacles with one of the first large-scale studies that is peer-reviewed and employs a randomized controlled trial design. They published their findings Tuesday in the medical journal JAMA.
The scientists randomly assigned 20 BJ's Wholesale Club outlets to offer a wellness program to all employees, then compared results with 140 stores that did not.
The big-box retailer employed nearly 33,000 workers across all 160 clubs during the test.
The wellness program consisted of asking participating workers to fill out a health risk questionnaire, have some medical tests, such as blood pressure and blood glucose, and take up to eight classes on topics such as nutrition and exercise.